Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Rest of the Tories

A few days ago, Mark Levin had an interesting post on The Corner about Davod Brooks’ recent column on conservatism in America. Brooks writes:


For years, American and British politics were in sync. Reagan came in roughly the same time as Thatcher, and Clinton’s Third Way approach mirrored Blair’s. But the British conservatives never had a Gingrich revolution in the 1990s or the Bush victories thereafter. They got their losing in early, and, in the wilderness, they rethought modern conservatism while their American counterparts were clinging to power.

Today, British conservatives are on the way up, while American conservatives are on the way down. British conservatives have moved beyond Thatcherism, while American conservatives pine for another Reagan. The British Conservative Party enjoyed a series of stunning victories in local elections last week, while polls show American voters thoroughly rejecting the Republican brand.

The flow of ideas has changed direction. It used to be that American conservatives shaped British political thinking. Now the influence is going the other way.

And he continues:
The British conservative renovation begins with this insight: The central political debate of the 20th century was over the role of government. The right stood for individual freedom while the left stood for extending the role of the state. But the central debate of the 21st century is over quality of life. In this new debate, it is necessary but insufficient to talk about individual freedom. Political leaders have to also talk about, as one Tory politician put it, “the whole way we live our lives.”

Levin does not have much taste for the idea that America’s conservatives should follow a somewhat squishy Tory Conservatism.


Conservatives are a much more sophisticated lot than Brooks gives them credit for. Conservatism isn’t only about individualism, although it is rightly a critical element of ordered liberty. But it isn’t about "creating 4,200 more health visitors," either. Brooks wants conservatives to mimic the ways of the Tory, the latter having made significant recent gains in British local elections. In other words, he looks to Europe much the same way the American Left does, although he may no doubt argue he looks there for a different direction than socialism.

Two comments. What, exactly, does Brooks think is original with the Tories? How exactly does it differ from President Bush’s "Compassionate Conservatism"? Perhaps, with its occasional efforts to put individual choice into big government (health savings accounts, etc.), Compassionate conservatism adds a bit of Gingrich’s idea of moving "from a welfare state to an opportunity society" into the mix, but barely. (It is also important to note that, given the difference between political systems, Mrs. Thatcher had the legislature on her side in a way that President Reagan never did.)

Levin asks, "Does David Brooks understand conservatism? Has he read anything written by Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and scores of others whose thinking and writings have made the case for the civilized society?"

I find that comment amusing, given that Levin complains that Brooks "looks to Europe." Perhaps he would be on more solid ground if he had pointed to Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Adams, and the other founders to make his point.

P.S. Might one say that President Bush has invented John D. Rockefeller Republicanism: Evangelical Christianity, plus Big Government.

Discussions - 7 Comments

Levin looked to Europeans of yesteryear. Not those from contemporary Europe. A couple of centuries a significant difference doth make, -------------- don't ya' think?

And I don't see Bush's Evangelical Christianity informing his presidency. It's not even background noise anymore.

Bush prefers his Rockefeller Republicanism straight up, not mixed, no chaser.

One thing more. And this needs to be thoroughly understood. And this post is in response to another post as well.

Americans haven't all of a sudden developed contempt for the Republican party. What they've developed a contempt, a derisive, dismissive contempt for is Bush, him, his style, his ways, his tics, his idiosyncrasies, his policies, in a phrase, his whole damn presidency.

SO MUCH SO that their loathing of him now laps over onto the Republican party, overwhelming and overtaking any lesser Republican within its tsunami like effect.

[Such as Rick Santorum for instance, who many here believed was defeated for his own PERSONAL failings, instead of properly and more accurately attributing his defeat to a man that a good chunk of our country detests, id est, Bush. Look to the TWO SAFE House seats lost. How long before our party is going to put it together? Let me describe it for them. Bush's pale and sickly shadow of political death reaches out from Washington striking down Republicans all across the fruited plain. He's like some Old Testament specter from a Cecil B. DeMille epic.]

To understand what is befalling the GOP one first must grasp the fury Americans have for Bush. The GOP, because they failed to take on Bush, to distinguish themselves from him and his hateful policies, is now viewed as an alter ego for him; it's seen as his clone, his vehicle, his platform, his Mini-me. Americans see the GOP as another incarnation of a figure they've developed an overwhelming fury for. And no, this portrait of mine is NOT overdrawn. And the fury of the American people isn't unhinged. It's not uninformed. It's not all BDS, which far too many Republicans use to cavalierly and unthinkingly dismiss serious and substantive criticism of this failed presidency. What do you think goes the mind of an independent trucker every single time he goes to the pump, -------------------- how can he not be furious with a President who can't even be bothered to get on the television and say he feels his pain and his frustration, and is taking effective action to immediately solve this inflationary spiral that American is entering.

To the extent that anything or anyone is considered synonymous with Bush, ------------------ then that thing is loathed by the American people.

Now there are a great many people who simply can't accept that. They're thinking: "There goes Dan again." But take a look at those two safe seats lost, and take a look at how easily Republicans took those seats just four brief years ago. I've described what's going on very starkly. But I did that so as to blow through the fog that surrounds this issue. Many in Washington might consider it all too Plebeian, too common, too vulgar, too freighted with hostility for our present President. Nor did I phrase it in an academic fashion.

But the American people get it.

And they're expressing their fury in the ballot box and in the polling, where they now identify with the Democrats on just about every major issue under the Sun.

There is a very sharp choice that needs to be made. The GOP can either sit with the accused, George Walker Bush, or can sit with the prosecution, the American people.

Only a fool would toss over the American people.

Here's a link to the essay on fraternity by Kruger that Brooks mentions. It's really about civil associations in the Tocquevillian sense, or little platoons in the Burkean sense. I don't know why he insists on referring to the 3rd horseman of the French Revolution's apocalypse.Kruger essayKruger essay

That means, first, moving beyond the Thatcherite tendency to put economics first. As Oliver Letwin, one of the leading Tory strategists put it: “Politics, once econo-centric, must now become socio-centric.” David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, makes it clear that his primary focus is sociological. Last year he declared: “The great challenge of the 1970s and 1980s was economic revival. The great challenge in this decade and the next is social revival.” In another speech, he argued: “We used to stand for the individual. We still do. But individual freedoms count for little if society is disintegrating. Now we stand for the family, for the neighborhood — in a word, for society.”


This has led to a lot of talk about community, relationships, civic engagement and social responsibility. Danny Kruger, a special adviser to Cameron, wrote a much-discussed pamphlet, “On Fraternity.” These conservatives are not trying to improve the souls of citizens. They’re trying to use government to foster dense social bonds.

This should all sound very familiar to anyone familiar with American conservatism. It's a rejection of the Randian right, but they are not and never were any sort of conservative. And they are what's dragging the GOP into oblivion.

Richard Adams, I like the PS, but wonder if what you are talking about isn't Progressivism Republican style. Wouldn't Teddy Roosevelt have done what George Bush does if his administration had had the money?

"Does David Brooks understand conservatism? Has he read anything written by Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and scores of others whose thinking and writings have made the case for the civilized society?"

I have, and none of those gentlemen were believers in individualism in the modern sense, or even of liberty in the modern sense. Here is Burke on liberty - "The only liberty I mean is a liberty connected with order, that not only exists along with order and virtue, but which cannot exist at all without them". That's a far cry from liberty as understood by the modern Randian right.

I don't think we can project onto T.R. a Texan sized, LBJ/GW like spending spree.

T.R. availed himself of the regulatory powers of the state, but Conservatives have always understood the reasons for the state, to protect the citizenry, not just from foreign threats, but domestic as well. And some of those threats can be found in the pantry.

It's safe to say that GW is way beyond T.R. I think T. Roosevelt's robust common-sense would have shielded him from the folly of the run-away, regulatory and high tax state.

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